SPOILERS for Episode 2 of The Falcon and the Winter Soldier follow!
Things are gaining momentum in the sophomore episode of the MCU’s sophomore Disney+ show The Falcon and the Winter Soldier. In episode 2 audiences get to see the titular characters finally team-up, when Bucky confronts Sam about how his choice to give up the shield Captain America gifted to him leads to the government choosing a new Captain America, John Walker. Coincidentally it seems, Sam is about to be deployed on a mission dealing with an unnaturally strong rebel organization, the Flag Smashers. Bucky tags along, the new Captain America intercedes, and after a particularly nasty skirmish with the Smashers the pair find themselves reforming an alliance sans Steve Rogers.
In episode 2, The Falcon and the Winter Soldier is still trying to find its footing. The previous installment dealt with their internal conflicts as individuals, but its sequel is dedicating more to the overall external conflict of the show. We get a real glimpse into the Flag Smasher, however the crafting of their political motivations seems mishandled. Their name, symbol, and motivation seem to be about creating a united world free from borders. We see other characters liken their actions to that of Robin Hood, redistributing resources to those who need them the most. Marvel tried to make those concepts relevant to the world they’ve crafted by centering their ideology around the Blip, the time between when Thanos destroyed half the population under the false guise then there would be enough resources for everyone and when the Avengers brought them all back.
From the events of Avengers: Endgame, the audience witnessed first-hand the disastrous consequences of the Blip; no one was better off because of it and assumedly Thanos’ “more resources could be passed around” notion was proven false. It’s very strange that Marvel would then link these two ideologies together; a stateless society where resources are distributed equally among the people and ecofascism. This is especially true when there is now the concern that they could have ties to Hydra, an anti-freedom terrorist organization. Hopefully, the narrative in later episodes will commit to thoughtfully exploring political positions that are reflective of our current world. While it’s compelling to have a more human and nuanced villain, political ideologies shape our world and it’s important for our media to be reflective of that.
This can also extend to Captain America, the new John Walker. It’s somewhat baffling that the government felt the need to reinstate a new Captain America as a “symbol” when the original Captain America was instated as a propaganda piece for the United States government during the Second World War only to become a war criminal in the modern era due to a myriad of elements leading to a distrust of government powers, especially in global policing.
Marvel has been criticized before regarding military propaganda, and that has never been more evident than having an American soldier say that becoming Captain America is no different than being in the army, only that the symbol now means something. We can only hope for more nuance to be afforded to this conversation because it does not seem like that is the direction the show wants to go in. Bucky is mad for Sam not becoming the next Captain America as Steve intended, not at the government for disrespecting Steve’s legacy by reducing the mantle as a symbol of the American military. In the 1940s, military propaganda was blatant as the entire nation needed to rally together in order to defeat the Nazis. Which begs the question, given the current imperialistic nature of the American military, why does there need to be another Captain America? These are the questions that the main characters need to ask as the Captain America trilogy was a build-up to Steve finding more faith in his own judgment than that of his country, and that storytelling should not be abandoned in the series’ television sequel.
The Falcon and the Winter Soldier also needs to be considerate when exploring racism. While it is important to include and approach the topic within the context of the MCU, these scenes should be handled with care. The show is juggling too many ideas- it must dedicate more time to each and weave them together more thoughtfully. Marvel delicately approaches Sam being harassed by the police as a reality of the Black experience in America, however ten minutes before they portray the military as a positive global police force. Isaiah Bradley is introduced in this episode, not as the first super-soldier, but one that was active sometime during the Korean War and the implications of his story are still impactful, alongside an excellent performance from Carl Lumbly, but the characters do not get enough time to properly develop this plot point. Hopefully, we will see this explored in future episodes of the show because so far, each entry has included a microaggression which just feels hollow due to how many plot points they are juggling.
Otherwise, the second episode of the series is really solid. The Falcon and the Winter Soldier manages to keep its action sequences interesting by including a lot of movement and constraints that the characters have to maneuver around in lively and creative ways. John Walker’s introduction as a sympathetic character creates an interesting dynamic between our established heroes and the newcomer they cannot stand.
The soundtrack, as always, is very good. Henry Jackman establishes a strong sense of musical continuity between this series and the Captain America films. He incorporates many themes and leitmotifs from his The Winter Soldier soundtrack, even having a musical callback during Captain Ameria’s entrance to the fight scene (which feels a little blasphemous). The marching band rendition of “Star Spangled Man” is a certified bop and establishes musical continuity with the first Captain America film. The episode ends with Mozart’s Lacrimosa, a classical requiem which is somewhat fitting for the episode, but a little strange of a musical choice considering it was most recently heard in HBO’s Watchmen as a repeated theme and there is a strong association between the two.
The banter between Sam and Bucky is fun, but also it’s solemn when it needs to be. Their characterization remains intact even during lighthearted beats. They’re sometimes put in scenes that would have romantic or sensitive connotations if not for the narrative’s commitment to reestablishing the character’s masculinity. The narrative could continue by going in one of three routes; they queerbait consistently, dropping parallels with romantic scenes, or maybe, just maybe, it could be intentional foreshadowing. Either way, the couples therapy scene was the best of the episode, furthering emotional exploration of the characters while opening the door for future development. If anyone had any doubt regarding whether the strength of their individual narratives would be muddled by putting them together, it’s clear that their stories complement one another and can be strengthened through mutual exploration.
In conclusion, The Falcon and the Winter Soldier episode 2 is okay. In terms of its tone and blending together traditional MCU elements with long-form storytelling and emotional beats, it keeps the viewer engaged and works well. It’s still setting the foundation for the rest of the show, though, and we can only hope that its potential will be realized instead of falling susceptible to missteps and misguided political metaphors. If all ends well, the ideas introduced in this series will be explored thoughtfully and this will all simply be exposition and precursor to more interesting conversations. But from the snippets revealed so far, it wouldn’t be surprising if the series shies away from the truly difficult discussions and instead focuses on these ideas only as they’re tangential to the emotional development of the two leads.